What probably sunk it for the DUP was the scenario in the stalled 15 page agreement.
“In the absence of (an EU agreement), the UK government will maintain FULL alignment with the internal market and the customs union, and the protection of the Good Friday Agreement”.
It ranges from very unlikely to impossible that they will agree to this even as a remote possibility for as long “walking away ” from an UK/EU deal remains a UK option. In that event it follows that NI would acquire a form of special status with the EU to differentiate it from the rest of the UK.
I don’t see how the DUP can accept this wording unless they receive cast iron guarantees of no economic border in the Irish Sea.
As this seems impossible I suggest the following:
- The two governments draw up a shortlist of areas which are converged/integrated/aligned today, headed by agribusiness and energy and sbould stay that way, but capable of expansion later. What is integrated today should remain integrated tomorrow. This would be a bilateral British-Irish agreement but the EU would be asked exceptionally to approve it. However, even this would be vulnerable to a “thin end of the wedge” argument from the DUP.
The DUP are now invoking the constitutional position and rather disingenuously eliding it with a potential new economic east-west border in supposed violation of the consent principle of the GFA. They may not accept assurances from Westminster alone.
- The two governments should reaffirm the fundamental distinction and declare their opposition to a border poll in the foreseeable future, with the Republic adding their opposition to the required parallel referendum in the Republic.
Both governments are already on record as opposing a border poll unless or until the present political turmoil settles down.
- It would help if Dublin joined business north and south to declare that their opposition to an Irish Sea border. (See the obvious case made by economist Esmond Birnie in the Newsletter).
Tbe fact that the Irish government have been playing down this aspect of their interests in recent days shows they have been playing politics as much as everybody else.
- Both governments sbould declare their intention now to work through the local issues and manage the final outcome of Brexit after adding a beefed up section to the GFA. This would clarify what is fundamentally bilateral but is currently expressed in an EU context and needs reformulation.
It is hard to see any version of this being signed off in a couple of days.
Brexit will have to wait.
Why on earth didn’t they see it coming and plan accordingly?
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London